Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
– Hebrews 12:14
Wow. What a verse. This one just popped up on my twitter link to Sojourner’s verse for the day and it reminds me of my call as a follower of Christ and sadly, my deficiencies. There are three key words that strike me in this verse–“peace,” “holiness” and then “pursue.” Some thoughts come to mind on each one.
The desire for “peace” is in vogue these days. Seems we want more interpersonal, international, and interracial harmony all over the place. We seem to have cycled through the options between war and peace and have come to realize the more we lack peace, the more we war with each other, the more conflict spreads across our globe, the more we end up blind and toothless. That was the comment on a wonderful soap opera [telenovela] I used to watch in Mexico where the protagonist once made this bright conclusion to the idea of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth!” Kind of obvious, right. There are other manifestations to life without peace but you get the idea.
As individuals we also want more intrapersonal peace, putting to rest the many conflicts within our soul that rob us of our inner solitude and harmony. We often seem conflicted over options about choices, priorities and attitudes. Clearly the intra and the inter are many times related even though our culture sometimes leads us to think we can separate the two. That is not my main point, however, that these two orbits overlap. What I feel we miss in this apparent universal desire for peace is the necessary work that will lead to that coveted goal of peace, both the intra and the inter. In this area, like so many other challenges in our society, we seem to think a wave of the magic wand will cure all ills. I’m overstating the point but in reality we want more magic in our lives that effort.
The next key word in this verse is “holy.” Now that one seems entirely out of vogue these days. Images of prudish conservatives who are big killjoys comes to mind. Holy is not what you want at a party. Holy is not what describes our appetite, our consumption, our media viewing. I sometimes wonder why this word has fallen so out of favor in our Western values. Is it our culture’s revulsion to fire and brimstone preachers, many of whom have been found to be total hypocrites? Is it a backlash to the religious right’s agenda that seems mostly bent on imposing certain “family values” on the rest of society? Is it the Pharisaic types who want to correct the errors of others? Well, I do think this is part of the situation, maybe even most. Holy is not good. Period.
As with many other things in my life, I like to always ask the question, “what does Jesus think about this?” Immediately I’m brought to some hopefully resolution and instruction for life. For starters, Jesus seemed very comfortable at parties and his guests and friends at those parties seemed comfortable with him. And yet, we also get from the Gospels that Jesus was very holy. Nothing impure about him. No off color or degrading comments about his enemies, his friends, his family. No verbal grenades thrown. Now he was prophetic and said some stuff that upset certain folks, especially the Pharisees and religious leaders. So clearly, Jesus was not a wimp. He could say difficult things. That characteristic is what finally lead him to the cross.
But he also said some other things that we should not ignore, especially today. Like in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount he said, “therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt. 5:48. Then a little further on Jesus challenges his listeners to “hear these words, and to act upon them,” thereby being “compared to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock.” Mt. 7:24-27. This all deals with the second word, “holy.” He also addresses the other word, “peace.” In an important section near the end of his life on earth when the guards came to take Jesus away, he instructed Peter to put his sword back in his sheath, saying, “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Mt. 26:52.
These are all part of the marvelous and important Gospel that those who claim to follow Jesus SHOULD be following. Simple. Period. The last word in this original text at the top is “pursue.” The first two words, holy and peace do not just happen. We need to pursue them. It is in the faithful pursuit that we find God, that we see him as he truly is. Many Christians pride themselves in having their doctrine straight and orthodox. I think the Bible teaches something more. In fact, I think Jesus would say that orthodoxy without orthopraxy is essentially heresy. We gotta walk our talk in other words.